The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s Sermon of January 19th, 2020

Several of you have asked for the Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s sermon of January 19th. We welcome Val to the pulpit. She and her husband The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler are both retired United Methodist pastors, and have been attending St. Paul for the last few months. In this sermon, Val preaches about discipleship and her experience in coming to this congregation.

It is the Patriot’s fault. Every Sunday afternoon when they are playing, my husband the avid fan, is sure to be watching. I am not a fan of football. But we have a good deal. He watches and I go wandering. I go off to the beach or to a movie or to hear a speaker or to listen to live music.

That is how I ended up at Jalapeno’s, a Mexican restaurant in Gloucester that Sunday afternoon listening to Celtic music. And that is when Michael O’Leary and I got to talking.  It was Michael who suggested this church and this pastor. And that is how we ended up here. We came that next Sunday and we never left!

“What are you looking for?”(vs38) Asks Jesus, of those first two disciples who had first followed John and who then began to follow Him.

I believe that what the disciples were searching for, what we were looking for and what so many people all around us are searching for are the same.  Augustine captured this best when he prayed, “You have made us for yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee.”

Our search for a church was a search for the Beloved Community. Pastor Anne referred to that in your wonderful directory, as “a community of repentance, a community of remembrance, a community of hope, love, revelation, and justice.” We are not meant to journey after Jesus alone, we need each other.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth celebrates the faithfulness of that particular community. It reminds us that we are called into fellowship.  “God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vs9) Paul says that this is a community filled with grace. It is a community that is not lacking in spiritual gifts.

And so on this Sunday before your annual meeting. I want to offer my own epistle by celebrating this community, your spiritual gifts, and the grace which we are experiencing here. And in the end, I also want to issue a challenge.

I know that you treasure this church, but sometimes it is a good thing to hear the perspective of an outsider.  I want you to know how amazing this church is. And while I am brand new to this church, I do know a lot about churches having served seven of them. And so “to the church of God called St. Paul’s grace to you and peace…”

So often I can sense the connection Pastor Anne has with all of you.  To a person people have shared how much you love and appreciate your pastor. The fact that Pastor Anne has been here for so many years is really such a strength.

You also love one another. And that is a beautiful thing and it is pleasing to God! (not always true)

The liturgy and the music and the sacrament are all powerful for us. I often keep my bulletin so I can read over the prayers.  I find myself humming the hymns. (Wade in the Water) (Postlude PTTLTA)Each word preached or prayed, sung or spoken speaks to both of us.

You had the vision to grow this church through investing in family ministries, and you stepped out in faith and then God sent Robin along.  She is brilliant. Every church needs a Robin.

 You are a church that welcomes people to get involved and to share their gifts. Rejoice that Abbey’s ministry has been nurtured here. Every person whose life she will touch, and there will be many, are the fruit of your ministry.

Your concern about caring for the environment is especially important as, we live surrounded by the stunning ocean, which so needs our care. You are reaching out to the hungry and to the homeless after the manner of Jesus.

Your stewardship is fantastic. Having a fully pledged budget is rare and it says so much about how truly invested each of you are in this ministry. Too many churches are living off of endowment funds.

Just as Isaiah talks about Israel as a light for the nations. So I believe that this ministry is a light for the Northshore and beyond. You have much to celebrate as you look back at 2019 but as you look ahead to 2020 and beyond, I want to challenge all of us.

As the people of God we are called to be a people on the move. In a bad news world we simply cannot keep the Good News of the Gospel to ourselves.  And especially on this weekend when we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy we are reminded that we always need to be asking the question—who is missing? Who is missing from the table?

Neither John nor Andrew could keep the news of Jesus to themselves. They just couldn’t. I don’t think that Michael O’Leary considers himself an Andrew, who went to bring Peter to Jesus but that is who Michael was to me that afternoon. Michael spoke up—will we speak up?

With the Psalmist may we faithfully be able to say, “God has put a new song in our hearts… Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord…We have not hidden your saving help within our hearts, we have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; we have not concealed your steadfast love and faithfulness from the great congregation.”

So who is it in your circle, that you work with, live near, go to school with who is restless and filled with longing to meet the living God and longing to belong to a caring community? Who might be sitting next to YOU at Jalapeno’s?!

Having served UMC churches for decades, you might wonder why we drive right by one to come here.  When recent legislation has limited the full participation of the LGBQT community, we could no longer support our denomination. It was a deal breaker for us, as it is for so many, especially for our young people.

 I so appreciate your mission statement, from the church council, “we are a community that strives to follow the message of Jesus’ unconditional inclusion…we welcome all persons, all ages, all ages, genders, sexual orientations ,races and faiths..

 Yet because the LGBQT community has been wounded by the church at large, I believe we have to be very intentional about advertising our welcome. As a pastor friend once said, “We have to let them know that the electricity in the fence has been turned off!” That this is a safe place. How might we do this?

I am working with Young Life.  (A+R) Of the six churches we visited there very few young people. So YL goes to where the kids are. I believe that young people are literally dying to know Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. I believe they need us, the beloved community. In my last church, about this size, there were 7 kids who were hospitalized for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Through YL I have met several immigrants. One young man grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. He and I have become friends. Recently I was helping find him a used car—his first car.

 It was eye opening to me to see how difficult it is to navigate the system of buying, insuring, and registering a car. This process was totally foreign to him. And again on this MLK weekend, I have to say, I was painfully aware of white privilege… I have to wonder if he would have been treated as well if I had not been present. Gloucester is filled with refugees who are far from home and who need the Lord, “who is our dwelling place for all generations” and who long for community

Will we dare to say to them, “Come and See.”

The temptation is to guard what we have to want to protect it. None of us likes change. And I confess that, already, I find myself thinking what if we grow too much, will we need two services. Will there be enough parking? Not to make you nervous, but…church growth experts tell us that once a church is 80% full—we have to start looking ahead…

 Let me close first by thanking Pastor Anne for trusting me with this pulpit, and then you for this ministry and for your faithful service to God that has created this place.

And finally with the words of our next hymn. “I come with joy to meet the Lord, the love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now our friends, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound by all that God has done we’ll go with joy to give the world, the love that makes us one.”

Amen

The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler

Annual Meeting: Sunday January 26th, 2020 Immediately after Worship with Lunch to Follow.

Every year in January, our congregation prepares an Annual Report for our Annual Meeting. This year we are publishing a little differently. Instead of producing 80 hard copies of the Annual Report, we have decided to be more conscious of our paper use. Last year, we had so many paper copies left over, we decided it would be an irresponsible use of paper to make so many this year. Instead of paper copies, we will be sending electronic copies by email. If congregants do not have email or computers and need a paper copy, we will make a limited number of them. Please let us know by email or telephone that you need a reserved copy.

This is also the case with our Constitution. As you know, we are ratifying the updated Constitution for which we voted last year. If you need a hard copy of the updated Constitution and By-Laws, please let us know, and we will copy one for you. Otherwise, we can send you an electronic version.

This year’s Report presents an overview of our congregational life. You will be delighted when you read it to see all that has happened this year. As always, I’m left with awe and gratitude for all of you. It is a blessing and privilege to serve as your pastor.

Bishop Hazelwood’s Visit–November 10th

On November 10th, Bishop Hazelwood joined us for worship, luncheon, and a book signing. He was delightful as always. He introduced the congregation to his new book Everyday Spirituality, beginning his sermon with a story of his own struggle to find spiritual practices meaningful to him. Traditional spiritual practices did not come naturally to him. He is a seeker, he says, for spirituality that has meaning for him everyday, that isn’t set apart from his daily existence or daily tasks. In the introduction, he writes:

“This is a book about everyday life. In living an everyday ordinary, seemingly routine life, we are living out a spirituality. Not the kind of spirituality that’s set apart. Not the kind where you go off to a retreat center for silence and good food and walks in nature. I’ve got nothing against that, and in fact, I enjoy those retreats myself. But I need a spirituality that is real for me on Mondays at 6 a.m. when the alarm goes off, and Thursday during dinner with my kids, and Fridays between the grocery store and the gym. This is a book that connects the stuff we do every day, every week or every so often with God.”

He has developed a card game to go with the book to use in small groups or at home or with friends or the congregation, as we did during the sermon on Sunday. Each card has a question on it inviting a conversation about our own experiences, or something important to us. For example, what are three things you’d like to be remembered for after you die, or one I liked very much: “Once, this really weird thing happened to me…Tell us about it.”

After the service, during the lunch, I heard snippets of conversation as I walked around tables or greeted people with their coffee. I could tell the Bishop had connected with the congregation, because people were talking about their own spirituality. One person talk about being in the woods in northern Minnesota, “that’s my spirituality, he said.” Another person told me about his experiences sailing as a crew member of a historic Gloucester ship, the camaraderie. Someone else talked about her photography. It was exciting for me to see the conversation from the worship service continue when we went downstairs for lunch. The thing you want most, as a pastor, or at least what I what most as a pastor is that faith be alive, a “living, busy, active, mighty thing” Luther called it. It’s always wonderful to see that in people’s lives, and I saw it on Sunday. After he finished his corn chowder and salad, Bishop Hazelwood stayed at his table with us in the middle of the room; people came to get their books signed, then sat down and began to talk with him about their experiences. He’s an inviting, personable man, and we connected with him, and with his book. Most of all, we connected with what is holy in our lives, with God in our everyday lives. All in all, a wonderful morning.

From the Everyday Spirituality cards.

Late Summer Update

Dear Friends,

It has been a busy summer at St. Paul. In addition to our usual summer activities, we began a construction renovation project on the education wing in July. This is a major overhaul of the building which we have been planning for the last several years. If you haven’t been by the church to see the new windows, new siding going up, scraping and painting of the whole church, please come by. It’s wonderful to see what is happening. The new windows let in much more light, and they are easy to use!

Robin Carlo, our new Assistant for Family Ministry and Outreach, has been working and planning this summer. We are excited to announce that Rally Day will be on September 15th. In a departure from past years, we are meeting at 9:15 a.m. on Sundays. Our theme this fall is Creation. Many churches have begun using these lovely autumn Sundays as a time to focus on creation in their classes and worship.

The Yard Sale was lovely and successful, even in the midst of our construction project. It was smaller in terms of items for sale, as we did not have rummage sales this year. But the crowd was delightful, a steady stream of shoppers, who enjoyed delicious food, found bargains, and chatted with neighborhood friends and visitors. Our thanks to Yard Sale organizers.

This spring, we decided to form a new peace and justice group. We’ve had one in the past, focused on racism from 2015-2018. The group wanted to study Pope Francis’ Laudato Si this summer, and met on the beach, when the weather permitted to read and discuss the Pope’s powerful encyclical on the climate crisis and our response as followers of Jesus. The group will continue to meet this fall, focused on care for creation and climate change.

We have a new organizer for our Open Door/Cape Ann Food Pantry commitment to provide meals four times a year. One of the evenings was in late July, and as always, our beef stew was a hit. Thank you to all who made that possible.

In late August, I participated in an annual ecumenical and interfaith arts camp, Cape Ann Arts Alive, held at St. John’s Episcopal Church. This year our theme was the 400th anniversary of Gloucester, which is coming in 2023. The children come from all over Cape Ann, some as far away as Cambridge. The program is funded by grants from the Episcopal Diocese, and other cultural associations.

Much more has happened of course. These are some of the highlights. We look forward to worship returning to 10:00 a.m. next week, September 1st. There is a month left of summer–and we hope you enjoy it.

Pastor Anne

A Sweet Surprise from the Twitterverse

A sweet surprise: This morning, as I visited social media, one of the ways I keep up with the church around the world, friends and world news (don’t worry, I check sources), I came across a beautiful question by a young Episcopal priest asking people to reflect on their experiences of Holy Communion. For those of you who use twitter, please visit our Twitter page, as I posted her question and the over 100 people’s responses to it. Reading it was like reading a litany of joy. They are short answers, so it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to read them if you want to. Writers reflected on the way receiving communion dissolved barriers, the way it moved their hearts, what it felt like to walk forward with open hands, what it is like to look into someone’s eyes as they receive, what it is like to hear one’s name in communion, what it is like to sit down afterward and take in the holiness of the moment, the profound reality that Christ is really and truly present in the elements. There were so many, I can’t reproduce them here. But here is question:

“Instead of getting too bogged down in the negativity, I’d like to start a thread in which we share our extremely meaningful experiences of the Eucharist, regardless of our denomination. ”

They are worth reading, prayers of gratitude for what we have received.


The writer is an Episcopal priest and writer The Rev. Erin Jean Warde @erinjeanwarde (on Twitter), if you want to follow her. Here is an article she wrote recently for the Mockingbird, an on-line journal on religion and all kinds of other things. https://www.mbird.com/2019/06/sobriety-broke-me-to-pour-me-out/

Here I Am–#YouthGathering2018–Cynthia Carney’s Wonderful Sermon

Dear Friends, our Stewardship theme this year is Here I Am–Send Me! Each week we’ve been talking about different ways we show up for God, our neighbors, near and far, and the ways we have changed when we have shown up. On the link below is a sermon by one of our ELCA Youth Gathering leaders: Cynthia Carney. Cynthia has been taking youth to the last three triennial gatherings; she loves it, and below is her sermon on her experience. She offered it on Reformation Sunday, October 28th, 2018.

10-28 Show Up sermon

Prayers for Tree of Life Synagogue

Dear Friends,

No doubt you are as dismayed and broken-hearted as I am about the recent shooting in Pittsburgh, on Shabbat in the Tree of Life of Synagogue. We have learned that 11 persons have died. These losses are unspeakably tragic. I ask your prayers for the victims’ families, those who were wounded, and for the entire congregation and community of the Tree of Life. I ask your prayers for the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We opened the church last evening for prayer and mourning in solidarity with them, and with the Jewish community there, here, and around the world.  One of my colleagues, the Rev. Maren Tirabassi, a UCC pastor and writer,  wrote a beautiful prayer for Pittsburgh based on Psalm 61.

Here is her prayer.

Prayer for Pittsburgh

God, we ask your presence
among the death at the Tree of Life –
for those shocked and mourning —
find comfort-givers,
for the wounded — healers,
for the fearful who shelter in place —
the fragile presence
of phone and internet support,
for those active in policing
in emergency care,
and gathering to offer
emotional support and counseling —
deep strength within themselves.

For we ask, with the psalmist,
that you set them on the rock
that is higher than fear,
become a refuge within and without,
a strong tower, enfolding tent,
and a shelter under your wings
for the aftermath of loss
and the crying to come. amen
(Ps 61)

Here are some of the verses from the Psalm:

 Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
    when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent forever,
    find refuge under the shelter of your wings.Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name…

So I will always sing praises to your name,
    as I pay my vows day after day.

 

On this Reformation Sunday, perhaps you might also join me in prayers for a reformation of action to change the climate of hatred we find ourselves living in, including the reform of gun laws.

Here is an article from The New York Times, with more on those who died.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/28/us/pittsburgh-shooting-victims.html

Lent Begins in Grief

 

 

On Ash Wednesday, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, as all of us know, by now, there was another school shooting in Florida, in which 17 persons died. Our Ash Wednesday service in the evening was heavy with the knowledge, grief and anger in the wake of the shooting.  It was good to put ashes on our foreheads, as a symbol of collective mourning, and also as a confession of our frailty, an acknowledgement of the brokenness so many of us feel regarding the culture of gun violence in our country.  I know many of us felt wordless with shock; I certainly did, and in that helplessness, the words of an ancient  prophet came as help:

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

There were children at the service, on Wednesday night, and I was so very grateful they were there, to be gathered in the arms of prayer that evening. The next morning, a parent in the neighborhood wrote me to say her child was afraid of going to school.  She was able to calm her son down enough, and she called the school to find out what the teachers and guidance counselors might be doing for him and other children. She, too, felt frightened by what can happen in the halls of school.

If we want to change gun violence in this country, prayers and thoughts are not enough. Lent calls us to fight evil with good. Gun violence is a clear and present danger to our communities; we are not helpless to change it. It is an evil we can fight with prayer AND action.  If you are looking for a way to use Lent as a time of healing and life-giving activities, consider taking action about gun violence, even if it is something as straightforward as calling your national Representatives and Senators, or perhaps registering people to vote. Gun lobbyists get people to vote. Peacemakers better be able to do that, too. Educate, advocate, vote, and get your friends to vote. The church has a public responsibility to speak and act in the matter of preventing gun violence in this country. If you doubt that, please check the Sermon on the Mount. We are Christ in this world, and I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t get behind assault rifles.

If you are interested in getting involved with and helping to work for change, then there are several organizations through which you can do that. Moms Demand Action is one I like; it’s a secular organization, https://momsdemandaction.org, but we have great resources within the church, too. I’ve listed them below with a pastoral letter from our bishops, written in 2013, and sadly, still needed.

Here’s a local organization started in Massachusetts by a MA resident and gun violence activist, John Rosenthal: http://www.stophandgunviolence.org

Church resources:

http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/COB_Pastoral_Letter_On_Violence.pdf

 

Epiphany Halfway

 

This week, on Sunday, January 28th, we will be holding our Annual Meeting, immediately following the 10:00 a.m. worship service. As I wrote the Pastor’s Annual Report, I found myself once more plunged into gratitude for this community. It is no surprise that Annual Reports can become Epiphanies in their own right, a window into the ways God is working among us. As I read through it, I found myself chuckling, rejoicing, praying, remembering, celebrating, planning, thinking, but most of all, thanking God for all of you, who are this Body of Christ. Annual Reports are available at the church office, should you need one. If you see Carol Gray, our Parish Administrator, please say thank you to her for her devoted work last week to edit and produce it. Thanks to all who contributed their reports and for all that we have been this year. Jenn Klopotoski designed the outstanding cover page, basing the illustration on a project she did with the children. (Above). The art is based on the verse from Micah 6:8 so many of us love:

“He has told you,
O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Last week, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, the children worked on another creation based on Jesus’ call of the disciples when they were mending their nets: Mark 1: 14-22. Between the two of those art projects, the Sunday School has expressed something of the core of our self-understanding as a congregation, as disciples. The caption reads: Walking the Way of Jesus, We are Schooled in the Light of Christ.

fishandfeet

See you Sunday! 9:00 a.m. for Sunday School; 10:00 a.m. for Worship, and 11:30 for the Annual Meeting.

Advent 2017: Halfway

The readings in Advent always take me to a place that theologians call the “margins.” Between Isaiah’s prophecies and John the Baptist, I get caught up in the fullness of their vision of the Reign of God, the richness of their dreams, the urgency of their prayer. Advent calls us to draw near God, even as the prophets announce that God is already drawing near to us. The Reign of God, John the Baptist cries, draws near in Christ. The yearning for God expressed in Advent, can take us to the margins of our lives, as it took Jesus.

During my sabbatical this year, I spent three months traveling around the country, visiting intentional communities that seemed to me to exemplify the biblical vision of Beloved Community, groups of people whose souls have caught the prophetic vision of the Reign of God, and are striving to live it in community–this is what church is, of course, but these folks were also forming intentional communities to express that vision in their every day lives, sharing homes, resources and a mission to their neighborhoods.

Beloved Community is a term that became popular during the Civil Rights era in the United States, but its history is older, and its modern expression goes back to the turn of the 20th century. Beloved Community is the language for an ideal—or a vision, a metaphor for the reign of God, or the kingdom of heaven—in religious terms, a horizon toward which we move, also a biblical vision, articulated in scripture. The biblical prophets point us in the direction of Beloved Community; Jesus’ teachings do as well, based as they are in prophetic faith, teachings that break into history with transforming love, working within individuals and in communities. Beloved Community can be thought of in a variety of ways: a community of repentance, a community of memory, a community of hope, grace, revelation, love and justice. The modern use of the phrase is attributed to philosopher Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1913, Royce wrote, ‘“My life means nothing, either theoretically or practically, unless I am a member of a community.” Beyond the actual communities that we directly encounter in life there is the ideal “Beloved Community” of all those who would be fully dedicated to the cause of loyalty, truth and reality itself.'( See: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/royce/). Later the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would adopt this language of Beloved Community, and popularize it in his sermons and speeches, as something that was achievable, rather than a far off horizon of vision. It was a realistic goal: “In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” For King, the method to achieve this goal was creating a critical mass of people trained in the theory and practice of non-violence. “Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.” (From The King Center: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy#sub4)

The Beloved Communities I visited were all informed by the powerful stream of  imagery, theory, teachings, and practice about what it means to create just and loving communities, exemplified in the biblical prophets and in Jesus’ teachings, in Dr. King’s work, and those who came after him. Most were Christian or interfaith communities, and all of them lived close in with people who have been, or may be still on the “margins” of our society. Now, here’s what this has to do with Advent: Jesus lived on the margins–this isn’t a new thought in Christian theology; it’s a foundational understanding of Jesus’ identity. From his birth in a rural village in the out-post of the Roman Empire, to his death on the cross, Jesus makes his home with the “anawim,” the Poor Ones. (See Raymond Brown: The Birth of the Messiah).

This year, because of our divisive politics, and some of the cruel measures being taken against the people Jesus calls us expressly to love, I find myself feeling an even deeper urgency to understand, help, and advocate for those who are being pushed to the margins of security because of poverty, immigration, discrimination of any kind, racism, sexism, classism, disabilities, mental illness, addiction.  Anger and prayers about injustice are not enough; faith is active in love. Jesus lives there, in the lives of people who are struggling for justice, truth, and love. Advent can take us into the blessing of those struggles, if we are not there already.

Here is an example. I call it the first principle of the discipline of loving the neighbor: get to know them. In one of the communities I visited, the members simply took regular walks in their neighborhoods, making it a point of learning about the lives, needs, and struggles of everyone who was within walking distance of their communities and churches. What they found, and what we will find, should we do it, are the intersections of our lives. Everyone needs safety from violence. Everyone needs food. Everyone needs shelter. Everyone needs health care. Everyone needs dignity and respect. Everyone needs decent work. Everyone needs love. As they got to know who their nearer neighbors actually were, it expanded their sense of belonging and opened their hearts to generosity and curiosity about their differences and their shared experiences. They discovered, as we may discover, common struggles, our interdependencies, our interconnections.  Refugees live nearby; homeless shelters are down the street; food pantries and soup kitchens feed the person next-door–we ourselves may need those same soup kitchens, too; local libraries offer help with ESL classes, and filling out government documents and forms; neighborhood houses of worship host health clinics and homeless families in transition. Soon the word “stranger” became and becomes the word “friend.”

Charles Marsh writes in his book on Beloved Community, “We must learn how to perceive the living God who is building a new world in unexpected places and shapes; indeed, we must learn what it means to enter the new world of God. In short, we must relearn the meaning of being a Christian. For if Jesus Christ is Lord of the church and over all creation, power, and principalities, as Christians believe, then our first order of business must be to learn again how to participate in the gift…But let us not for a moment conceal from ourselves the fact that obedience to this vision–our actual acceptance of what the Bible proposes: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”–is a step into space, “an undertaking of unknown consequences, a venture into eternity.” Christian discipleship leads one into the most passionate worldliness and the experience of life’s polyphony, its beauty, anguish and complexity…in church we are taken up, perhaps even against our will, into a fellowship of astonishing variety and difference. In church, we are taken into “Christ-time” …and given the hope that our fragile and infrequent experiences of reconciliation will one day become an eternal feast” (p. 214-215). May this Advent take us to the margins, out past our comfort, and gather us up into that astonishing world of “Christ-time” and “Christ-love”, toward the unexpected and mysterious down-to-earth ways that the love of God might be born anew in us and in our beloved communities.